[Book Review] – A Fort of Nine Towers (2013) By Qais Akbar Omar

By The Gorgeous Palah Chingu

“I have long carried this load of griefs in the cage of my heart. Now I have given them to you. I hope you are strong enough to hold them.”- Qais Akbar Omar

My Rating: 5/5 (Thats because I have not been so moved by a book in a long while).
My Rating: 5/5 (Thats because I have not been so moved by a book in a long while).

If you ask me is it that GOOD to give 5 stars for this book, i would say 5 is not good enough. I cried, I laughed, I cheered and I felt all sort of emotions that the author told me via his story. This book consisted of 3 parts of author and his family story in it. The first part, you felt warmhearted imagining at the back of your head how he told his childhood story. The way he presented his point of view about his culture is just an honest expression of how he felt due to the way he was raised. He was born in the Pashtun Family and he lived together in a big house with his uncles, aunties and his grandfather is in their culture. He talked about it and enlightened those who find it such a strange culture. He described his childhood to be bright and colorful as he was surrounded by playful cousins and loving relatives. He pointed out that though his family are from Pashtun ethnic but he never spoke Pashto in the house. All of his family members are comfortable using Dari (another language that are widely used in Afghanistan aside Pashto). It is not a big deal for him because he learned Pashto and knew how to use it but he stated that he preferred Dari More. The Kite competition during his past childhood is one of the fiercest battle he ever encountered when he was a kid. He bragged about how his cousin Wakeel can easily defeated other opponent and has been named as ‘The Cruel Kite Cutter’ in their neighborhood. He cherished the moment of one of his family’s servants, Bahar helped him to win the competition by cutting Wakeel’s kite. For the author, The childhood in the big house with all of his cousins is one of the best memories he had.

The second part, you started feeling sad and wanted to help them to get through that awful war ( from Russian, Mujahideen, Taliban and American army). When the war (The Mujahideen Army) is approaching Afghanistan, The Author’s family felt that they are the savior. They had came to chase the Russian and Communism. They felt optimistic about this Army and wished that they will build back their destroyed nation. They are indeed wrong. Not long after Mujahideen’s arrival, The power struggle between factions occurred. Many died because of that. The author’s family felt they are no longer safe staying at their big house. The battle between factions of Mujahideen had turned most of them from being a ‘God’s Man’ to ‘Low-class criminal’. They robbed other’s properties and killed those who defied them. Fearing that their life will not be saved, the author’s family decided to take a refuge in his father’s friend house. They stayed there until American Army came to hunt every single Taliban army that resides in the country. The whole feeling when i read the second part is helplessness. I cant bloody do anything, I just keep moving on to the next pages, hoping the author’s family survived the calamity fell upon them. There was one scene that i deeply remembered because i truly feared that the author and his grandfather will not survived. First scene is when his grandfather stubbornly wanted to take a look at his house that he left a long time ago since Mujahideen Army came. He wanted to bring Author’s uncle originally but his uncle pleaded to wait until a few days for ceasefire between factions to happen. However, His grandfather could not wait any longer and ordered the author to go with him. When his father did not object his grandfather’s decision, he knew he had to accompany him no matter what. When they are on their way, They has been captured by Hazara’s faction of Mujahideen. It was truly a terrifying moment. They had been locked in a room where the walls are full of writing of those who ever lived in it. His grandfather knew that they are going to be killed. He told the author to be strong and in case if he’s got a chance to live, try his hardest to escape. He also told the author that those men might ‘used’ him but he insisted him to endure as surviving is more important. The author cried and asked his grandfather to stop talking nonsense. When the leader of the faction asked what they are both doing in the area, His grandfather told that they are visiting his house in the area. It turned out before the war, the leader is one of the students of the author’s father. He decided to let them go and send them both back. The author picturized the whole scene as his first death escape experience.

The third part is where the age of ignorance came and how the Taliban rules did alter the whole nation. He told what he deeply felt about them in this book. He stated that they brough strange peace into the country. How peace can be such strange thing? He revealed decrees of Taliban that insisted on Hudud Punishment and Fundamentalism of Islamic Law. No Music, No Entertainment, No Pictures, No Free Relationship between Boys and Girls, No Open Courtship and up to the extend of NO to everything. How did they governed Afghanistan? They said Yes to everything which considered good in Holy Quran. When he said strange peace, he does not mean it a good way. He felt the Afghan community and culture suddenly died and they can no longer do what they usually did. He said girls in Taliban’s time faced it much worse because they cant attend school , they have to wore Burqa all the time , they cannot work and they have to be accompanied by their male relatives if they wanted to go to other places. He portrayed vividly the moment of how Taliban used the stadium to carry out the punishment of those they claimed to be a sinner. To witness the scene of girls being stoned to death, the thieves whose hand is being cut and the murderers being shot at the head right away is one of the horrifying moments author ever had. He also reflected back the time he went to jail just for not cutting his hair according to Taliban Standard. In the jail, he was beaten by the religious officers and only to be released when he could answers all of their questions about Islam and Taliban.

According to this book, The author’s cousin named Wakeel and his grandfather played a big role in his life. He cherished both of them in temple of his heart. The wording that he put in this book to portray them both is simple yet poetic. You can sense his sincerity and tenderness in the book. The author even managed to share some of the stories of good people he met despite of war in his journey back and forth with his family.Whether it is from Hazara, Turkmenistan or Pashtun, They are indeed kind people who helped him when he needed it.

Can you see how huge this book is?
Can you see how huge this book is? The book size that i preferred is on my left (The Kite Runner Book) and in the middle one (which i tolerated because it is not that heavy).

To be honest, I hated books that had a huge size (compared to the normal size) which is for me difficult to hold it during reading. This book turned me off right away when i first saw it sitting among bookshelves in a local bookstore. I wanted to ignore the book and move on to another section but my instinct kept asking me to flip a few pages of this particular book. I turned a few pages of this book and i sighed. There is no foreword or rave review by other famous authors. I am skeptical at first but i bought it. I bought it in the sense that i loved non fiction books and above all, it is middle-eastern literature especially from Afghanistan and Iran. After reading a few chapters, I was completely blown away. I wondered how Afghani authors (Khaled Hosseini and others) can easily grasp my attention and i am completely hooked on the way he told his tale. If you like Khaled Hosseini, You should buy this book. What differentiate Qais Akbar Omar from Khaled Hosseini is he did tell the TRUE story and what really happpened to him while he was growing up in Afghanistan in a time of War. I can assure you guys that this book is indeed one of the best books i’ve ever read in 2014.

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Book Review: The Cypress Tree by Kamin Mohammadi

By The Gorgeous Palah Chingu

My Rating: 4/5
My Rating: 4/5

We Iranians are like the cypress tree. We may bend and bend on the wind but we will never break’ 

I bought this book last year and I only got a chance to read it this year. Why I took so long to read, I don’t even know. Maybe it does not have an appealing cover like some middle-eastern non-fiction books like a piercing stare by a young girl who wore a burqa or a war image captured by some famous journalist.  Iran, in my opinion, is a truly country that makes you wonder and ponder. This country is formed from an empire of great Persia to the reign of Shah, then it has been handed to Khomeini and it changed into the Islamic Republic of Iran until now. This book featured an interesting perspective from a refugee who just returned to her own country where she used to call it home once.

I read some of the books about Iran like Persepolis, not without my daughter and so many more. However, this one struck in my mind a bit longer. Kamin told a tale about her big family but in the same time, she poured her heart out to her beloved country. She returned to Iran after a long time and sudden regret bloomed from her heart for not preserving her own culture and tradition in her foreign country. The language for this book is quite simple actually. When the language is not so difficult to understand, you connected with the author much quicker than you thought.

From the event of how her grandfather and her grandmother get married, how her mother standing up to her conservative father to avoid from being married off and even got a chance to further in higher education and work in a management level in some company until to the event of Shah Downfall in Iran and How Khomeini stated ‘He felt nothing’ when people asked how he felt right after he returned to Iran. I could connect with Kamin because she wrote the Iran history in a view of a person who yearn a freedom and peace for her country. She looked back into her childhood and teenage hood where she learned many things from her uncles, aunties, cousins and even her grandmother. She pointed out how the Iranian revolution somehow turned many things upside down including breaking many relations through betrayals and how many deaths she encountered during the event.

Kamin also vividly narrated the experience of leaving Iran and seeking a refuge in England somehow changed and altered her behavior but failed to change her parents. Her parents still continuing living in England like how they live in Iran but with a different community. Since they are no longer with a big family, gatherings will be attended by an Iranian community who’s faced the similar fate of fled from the country. Kamin confessed how her teen- rebellious phase forcing her to abandon Farsi, her language that she spoke everyday at Iran into a thick accent of English in England. Little did she know it will show how she made a bad choice when she barely able speaks that language when she returned to Iran.

I have no criticism on the book as I always enjoyed reading non-fiction books. I love reading about people lives, tragedy, experience, difficulty or any events that changed the idea of living their life. I find it very gutsy and me myself hoping I could able to do that someday. I wish Kamin did put an assemblage of her family photos in the book so that readers could see it. If you wanted to know about Iran’s history but does not want to read a thick book with a very small letter, this book might do you good.

12 Years A Slave : Movie Review

By The Gorgeous Palah Chingu

12 years a slave
My Rating: 4.5/5

(I am wiping my tears off my eyes and blowing my nose simultaneously after the credit scene of this film)

Solomot Northup/ Platt
Solomot Northup/ Platt (Chiwetel Ejiofor)

Where should I begin? First of all, the guy who portrayed Solomon Northup is fucking AMAZING. The word AMAZING wouldn’t suffice to praise Chiwetel Ejiofor for his depiction of Solomon. Forgive me for not watching any of his film before but I swear I got him under my radar now. Maybe I did watch his films but I can’t remember. All the overwhelming of hype and buzz of this film is credible. I mean, the film is fantastic and brilliant. they did win 1 award for golden globe awards and they also receive numerous nominations in Academy Award.  12 Years a slave film is based on the memoir of ‘12 Years a Slave’ written by Solomon Northup who is a free Negro born in New York State. In 1841, He’s been kidnapped in Washington D.C after being tricked by 2 guys who claimed to have a job in circus for him. He then, sold into slavery and being shipped off to New Orleans.  The plantation owner, William Ford (portrayed by Benedict Cumberbatch) bought him and his name has been changed from Solomon to Platt. He stayed as good slave to Master Ford and even suggested to his master the idea to transport logs effectively using the lake. However, situation arose as the one of the managers at the plantation disliked Platt and always picked on him. He failed to remain calm and in the spur of the moment, he had beaten the manager. Fear for Platt might be killed as an act of retaliation by that manager; Master Ford sold Platt to Edwin Epps, the cotton plantation owner. Platt did try to tell Master Ford that he is a free man but Ford can’t help him because he had a debt to pay.

Platt & Master William Ford
Platt & Master William Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch)

Let me be frank with you guys, that I watched this film solely because of Michael Fassbender. After Shame, X-men: First class, Prometheus, Fish Tank and so many films of him that I watched, I have became a big fan of Bender (and a bit obsessed too). Ruby and I called him ‘Abang Bender’. Michael Fassbender in this film is nothing like his previous characters in the films I listed above (nothing at all). When Ruby and Ika first told me about this film and they were pretty much excited about Fassbender going to play some evil role, I was like ‘okay’, not that I don’t look forward to it but in Xmen First Class, he’s pretty much covered the definition of evil. The role he played in this film, unfortunately is much more twisted, sadistic, brutal and vicious slave owner. Evil could not even begin to justify what he has done to all of his slaves. He whipped his slaves for not being able to pick an average amount of cotton per day, he raped his slave whenever he pleased to do so, and he called them up in the middle of the night and asked them to dance just for sake of his entertainment. I seriously don’t like his character in this film. I hated it because his acting was excellent and I did see him as inhuman slave owner in the film. At that time, having and owning slaves is not a sin and legal by law.  Master Epps frequently read to his slaves the bible verses that supported slavery act. He planted the idea that they have to accept that they are his property and he can do whatever he likes to them.

Platt & Master Edwin Epps
Platt & Master Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender)

Platt attempted twice times to contact his friends and family. The first attempt failed as he sought help from the wrong person. Afraid of being caught again by Master Epps, he burned all the stolen paper and destroyed the ink and pen that he made. Later, He met Samuel Bass (portrayed by Brad Pitt) a Canadian carpenter who constructed the gazebo for Master Epps’s house. Bass is a simple man who believes that men no matter what color he was, is equal before god. He expressed his opinion to Master Epps but Epps dismissed his point by saying that the slaves are rightfully obtained by him. They are his property. Platt felt Bass’s sincerity and confided in him, his story from beginning until he ended up as one of Master Epps’s slaves. Bass agreed to help after a moment of reluctance to write a letter for him and will bring it to Saratoga Springs. One day, a sheriff appeared with his friend who is a shopkeeper from the place he used to live, Saratoga Springs. Platt fitted the description of Solomon Northup from his previous life at New York and is freed right away. Epps refused to let Platt go and threatened to pursue the matter to the court. The final scene of this film is the reconciliation of Solomon Northup with his family. 12 years of absent in the family showed that his daughter already got married and have a child named after him. That scene was so touching and full of emotions of sad and happiness. He then begged his wife for forgiveness of not being able to return soon and missing in her life for 12 years.

Samuel Bass (Brad Pitt)
Samuel Bass (Brad Pitt)

Unforgettable Scenes:

I would like to state that every single scene in the film is haunting my mind. This movie is not something you can repeat twice and watched it all over again. This is about subjugation and suppression of black-skinned people by white people who they called ‘Master’. However, I would like to highlight some of the unbearable scenes that I don’t want to watch EVER again.

1. Every single scene that has a singing moment or a song in it. It is excruciating. They used songs as an entertainment, encouragement, and some of it even as reminder to realize who they really are. Some of those songs had catchy tune but was sung in the solemn and grave environment and time. among all of the songs featured in the film, Roll Jordan Roll really stuck in my head and i kept humming the song.

Patsy (Lupita Nyong'o) , Master Epps & Platt
Patsy (Lupita Nyong’o) , Master Epps & Platt

2. When Master Epps chained and whipped his favorite slave patsy in front of other slaves. He told Platt to do on his behalf but Platt didn’t go all the way as he ordered. He then took the belt and whipped patsy until he felt satisfied. This film then showed how badly patsy has been injured.

The Disturbing Hang Scene
The Disturbing Hang Scene

3. When Solomon was hanged at the tree and fighting for his life as his feet only an inch away from the tree. There is some slave who did give him water but nobody dared to remove the rope. It was agonizing seeing a man fighting to catch his breath while all the slaves continued their works as usual at the background like nothing happened. He was freed from the rope by Master Ford when he returned from work. I mean like what the fuck you didn’t send any of your messenger to release him right away. He was tied by a bad people but somehow the manager of the plantation couldn’t care less. He did chase away the bad guy but he walked away without releasing him. The wife of Master Ford also turned away from the scene.

Patsy begged Platt to kill her.
Patsy begged Platt to kill her so that she can end her suffering.

4. The rape and assault scene of Patsey by Master Epps is cruel and pitiless. Patsey endured it even she didn’t like it. However, she’s finally break down in front of Platt asking him to kill her. She admitted that she does not have enough courage to take her own life. However, Platt refused to do so.

5. When Solomon realized he’s been kidnapped and beseeched his kidnapper to release him. He tried to convince them that he is a free man from New York. However, he failed to provide any legal document as a proof. He was beaten using a wood stick until that stick is broken. The kidnapper then used a belt to flog his back until it bled. I cried, dude. I really cried my heart out. How could you treat another human being like animal?